In minor league hockey, what exactly are the factors needed to create a classic? Obviously good officiating is always appreciated at the American Hockey League level, leading to a fast paced, open, end-to-end hockey game. But in addition, how about a great atmosphere inside arena? Or even a game that may decide a team’s future postseason fate?
All those factors came into play and meshed perfectly on Sunday evening, which built-ed towards a 1-0 overtime win over the Binghamton Senators.
You really could not ask for a more even hockey game between two East Division opponents. The B-Sens out shot Hershey 41-33 through 60 minutes of regulation, as goaltender Andrew Hammond and Philipp Grubauer both stood on their head with big league performances.
Each team went a successful 3-for-3 on the penalty kill through 60 minutes, which included a lengthy Hershey 5-on-3 kill to end the first period.
The Bears entered the night in the eighth seed, tied in points with the Norfolk Admirals, and possessed the tiebreaker. A shootout win by the Admirals over the Portland Pirates on Sunday evening forced the Chocolate and White to earn two points, just to maintain their playoff position.
The nerve-wrecking hockey game entered sudden death overtime with goose eggs still in both goal columns. A broken stick to a Senators’ player during the overtime frame gave Hershey an advantage, as they possessed as if it was a 4-on-3 power play.
Fresh off the bench, Dane Byers cut into the offensive zone and made a quick break towards the net. At the 2:24 mark of sudden death, Byers tipped a David Kolomatis shot into the net to send a Giant Center sellout crowd of 10,984 home happy.
It was Hershey’s first 1-0 win of the 2013-14 season, and it kept the Bears in the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference to conclude the weekend.
Dane Byers commented on his overtime magic after the game. He said, “This time of the year is playoff hockey. Sometimes the more patient team wins.” He continued, “I went to the net with my stick on the ice and Kolomatis made a beautiful shot-pass, and luckily it went in.”
Byers continued to comment on the atmosphere of competing in a playoff race. He said, “These are the types of games you love to play in. Guys, you see the smiles on their faces, and it’s great. This is a fun time to come to the rink.”
Head Coach Mike Haviland said after the game, “We talked going into the third about basically laying it on the line and leaving everything out there.”
With Hershey’s win, their magic number to clinch a playoff spot has been lowered to seven. Three games remain in the Bears’ season, and the next two will be against the Norfolk Admirals on Wednesday and Friday.
The Calder Cup playoffs traditionally last four rounds, but Hershey’s quest for Calder will require an additional two-game series this coming week. The Bears’ upcoming, back-to-back in Norfolk will ultimately make or break their playoff hopes and dreams.
A regulation win on Wednesday will drop the magic number to three. A second win of any sort against the Admirals in Game Two will earn a Friday night clinching party, and a spot in the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs.